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Latest Survey Shows ECE Sector Keen For Govt to Focus on Improving Standards and Putting Children First

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The Government is being urged to put children and maintaining and improving standards of early childhood education first before political goals, a new survey shows.

ECE providers are calling for a better policy and funding approach more attuned to children’s needs and to sector improvement, according to the latest survey done by early childhood network ChildForum.

In its third annual survey, ChildForum looked at what was happening in the early childcare and education sector in 2012 and the issues affecting it.

Each year brings new challenges and so it is important for those determining policy priorities to know what is on the minds of those on the sector’s frontline and how the sector is changing.

Around 2,000 ECE services were represented in the survey and according to respondents, although some things are going well much of the feedback still paints a pretty grim picture overall of many problems and few sector improvements over the past year.

Services are working hard to continue to run well, provide the best they can for children, and achieve a steady income, despite the difficulties.

During the 2012 year, government funding levels worsened according to 70% of respondents, affordability for families declined (55%), it was more difficult to maintain full rolls and regular child attendance (51%), adult/teacher morale and work satisfaction was lower (38%) and there was a deterioration in the ability of services to give children a high standard of education (39%) and care (35%).

Addressing funding problems for early childhood services seems to be critical, along with changing funding rules such as around 20-Hour funding so families are not faced with additional charges and can have greater choice in the hours of enrolment and service they use.

Parental choice in early childhood education should be supported and standards needed to be improved. 

There was also a strong desire for the Government to address diversity issues by valuing children’s participation in Kōhanga Reo and funding Nga Kōhanga Reo equitably, and by putting gender diversity in early childhood teaching and childcare on the policy agenda.

The survey results provide insights important for those determining policy priorities and a clear indication of what people most want the Government to do in responding to children’s and the sector’s needs.

It also indicates that early childhood education is going in directions that would be very worrying for parents and for people with knowledge of what young children need to be happy, form good relationships, and thrive intellectually, socially, and physically.

The outlook for 2013, according to 80% of respondents, is negative with the situation expected to worsen more than it will improve.  The challenges of the past year are expected to continue according to respondents unless the Government has some positive surprises up its sleeve.

Especially alarming is the proposal to keep tabs on beneficiaries and possibly other groups of parents who do not send their children to an early childhood service, according to the respondents.

The survey asked respondents whether child attendance in early childhood education ought to be made compulsory and if a financial penalty should be applied to parents who do not put their child into ECE.

While those working in ECE, in general, believed that ECE can be good for children the majority did not want ECE to be made compulsory and they did not want families to be financially penalised for not using ECE.

Their comments highlight potential pitfalls in the government’s current idea to require people receiving a benefit to put their three and four-year-old children into an ECE service for a minimum of 15 hours a week. 

(The Government via the Ministry of Social Development is planning to cancel the benefits received by families who have not put their child into an ECE after 3 meetings or warnings.  At the same time, the Ministry of Education is working on a new electronic information system which will allow it to give ID numbers to any child not enrolled in ECE and store the contact details of families with young children from other agencies for the purpose of helping the Government to reach its 98% child participation in ECE target).

This policy direction is viewed by many working in the ECE sector as a political one and not in the best interests of a sector that values the role of parents in children’s care and early learning and participation in early childhood education as a voluntary activity. 

The survey also shows that requiring a group of parents to use ECE in this way is expected to create a number of difficulties and make the job of teachers and ECE service providers a lot harder.

The full report is available on the www.childforum.com website

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